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My first wrestling match

I spend a lot of time on Facebook. I was dead set against social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook in the early days. In fact, I didn’t jump on Facebook until after I’d graduated from ODU. But I still had a university e-mail account (which I never used), so I was “eligible” to jump on back in 2004.

Well, those of you on MySpace and Facebook are familiar with those little surveys that roll around and you tag people and then they give their responses and whatnot. Well, one of my high school acquaintences who I later became friends with (we weren’t really friends in high school) tagged me.

This was #17 random fact, so I’m honoring it by this blog:

17.) I think Jason Bryant a.k.a Twinkie is a great example of someone who are living the dream. He is also a HUGE asset to the sport of wrestling and I wish he would mention me in a up coming article about how I took him to his first tournament in which he wrestled in at Northhampton Middle School. I also hope he forgives me for being a dick to him sometimes in class…

So Jimbo, here’s the story of my first wrestling match.

It’s well documented that I was a pretty crappy wrestler. I came out for the team basically beacuse of my interest in the sport. I wrestled a bit in open tournaments but could never hack it on the mat. I was, by that time, pretty deep into my love of broadcasting and writing and was writing a lot and announcing eight sports. Well, here’s the deal about my first wrestling tournament.

I had been to TWO club practices to start learning how to wrestle. We were team state runners-up at the AA state tournament that year to rival Grundy. Jamie Holloway, our 135-pounder, had toted me to my first practice and taught me the finer points of the Poquoson crossface, which basically amounted to a forearm that knocked both of my contact lenses out. Great.

Well, I’d been to TWO practices and saw there was a tournament the upcoming weekend at Jeff Davis Middle School (or as Jimmy mentioned, Northampton M.S.), well, it’s pretty much the same since that was the Northampton section of Hampton.

Well, I’d waited for Jimmy to come pick me up. Earlier in the week at the wrestling room, I’d borrowed a pair of his old shoes, a pair of black Asics with the hot pink trim, they were pretty popular back in the late 90s. Well, I knew the start time was around 9 a.m., so I was up and ready. No Jimbo. So I got my mom to drive me 15 minutes over. No biggie. I met up with Jimmy as we came in. I can’t remember exactly what the excuse was, but afterwards, I did catch a ride home.

Well, as I sat there, I looked at the wall charts and saw my name along with three others using the VA Easy System (or Madison) system. I weighed in at 204 the day before, had my USA Card and I was set to go.

I found some teammates, Jason Forrest, Jimmy, Coach Ruff and Mike Green, who was an 8th grader at the time. I made a joke as I walked past a mat of tots wrestling and said, “Hey coach, that kid knows more than I do.”

“Yes, Twink, he does,” said coach. This got a laugh out of the guys.

Well, I didn’t have a singlet, I was wearing a t-shirt from the AA/A State Tournament I’d bought the week or two prior. My headgear was brand-spankin’ new. I didn’t even know how to adjust it.

I sat on the bleachers and watched Jason Forrest get called for his first match. Jimmy graduated a year earlier and was helping with the upper weights towards the end of the season. The guy had freakish strength and was from the same area of Newport News I’d previously lived. He was wrestling in the open division, along with two folks I knew, one well, the other I’d know well later. Allen Hackmann, our assistant coach and Rob Henesey, a former Poquoson state champ who is now a wrestling official. Jimmy, Hackmann and Rob were in the same weight with another guy.

I sat waiting to be called and when I heard my name, I walked over and waited for my bout sheet. As I write this, I can actually feel the rush of adrenaline back to my system. I was so nervous. I mean, I can, right now, feel that sense of a raised heart rate, jitters, etc.

Well, two of the other guys in the bracket next to me were from Kecoughtan (Kick-o-tan), a high school in Hampton. They didn’t show up. Neither did anyone else from Kecoughtan, severely screwing up the hand-paired brackets by local wrestling pairmaster Candido Rodriquez.

Victor Holloway was the coach at Kecoughtan, I didn’t know who he was yet at the time. I ended up getting to know Victor as I covered wrestling for the Daily Press in later years. Well, the tournament director was so pissed, he told “Everyone who has a Kecoughtan guy, walk over to that guy (pointing at Holloway) over there and say thank you.”

So we did.

That left me and someone named Andre Elliot in the bracket. Andre was from Northampton … not the Northampton section of Hampton, but from the Eastern Shore of Virginia. Those of you that wonder what that is, well, it’s that section of Virginia connected to Maryland on the other side of the Chesapeake Bay. The Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel runs from the southern point of the Eastern Shore to Virginia Beach … it’s about a 30-mile run on the CBBT itself.

Well, little did I know that Andre was there looking for the Poquoson 215-pounder … but not any 215-pounder. He wanted our state qualifier and eventual state runner-up Emile Cochet. He got me.

I saw him, and like a dumbass wrestling noob, I sat next to him and said, “Hey man, how long have you been wrestling?”

“Forever,” he said. “Sh*t,” I said to myself.

He said, “Hey, is that shirt from this year?” I replied, “Yup.”

Then a finger is poked into my back, “Yup, there I am.”

Like a dork, I asked “So, how’d you do?”

“Third this year, I was second last year.”

Granted, Northampton was Single A, but coach Brian Harmon had produced some monster teams over there. Great for Single A and when they went AA, they were still pretty solid.

So here I am, my first wrestling match, and I get a state runner-up and two-time state placewinner who came looking for our starter (and later my drill partner). I’m in for a rough day.

Having started learning to wrestle about a week prior, I knew about half of an inside step, an armbar tilt and an anklepick, even though my arms were like T-Rex arms, short and not very good for going underneath and snatching up ankles.

After watching Jimmy win, Jason Forrest battle Western Branch’s Danny Smith and Mike Green maul some poor sap, I was on the mat.

We wrestled one four minute period at the Bethel Open. I wouldn’t make it the four minutes.

Jason Forrest, who’d just lost in overtime, heard me called and grabbed Mike. “Twinkie’s wrestling, we have to watch this!” Admittedly, they didn’t help with my hesistancy. I was scared to freakin’ death.

The whistle blows and Andre’s in great shape, this guy has muscles on muscles. I tie up (or so I think) and halfway bang the head down and instead of changing my level and attacking the leg, I just dive. I think I might have touched Andre’s kneepad. He snapped (well, didn’t really have to), spun around and scored two. He then threw a half and drove me over to my back. Having no knowledge of wrestling other than a year of watching it and covering the stat aspect, I knew one thing —  I wasn’t going to flap around like a fish out there. It just looks stupid, so I remember thinking, “No, I’m not going to look like that.”

Well, my left arm was trapped underneath me, so there was no way for him to have pinned me from that situation, so he released the half and I bellied down. I moved up to my base and Andre pushed me away for a one-point escape. Before I turned to face him, I looked over at Coach Ruff and Coach Hackmann and said, I kid you not, “I scored!”

I turned and faced Andre again and repeated my folly, a half shot dive. This time, it wasn’t so difficult. Andre sunk in another deep half and simply overpowered me. The half was on my right side, which was the direction of Ruff and Hackmann.

“TWINKIE! LOOK AWAY!”

“C’MON TWINKIE!” hollered other teammates, half amused, half concerned.

This is also the point where I realized my nickname wasn’t really suited for wrestling. I mean, couldn’t they have just yelled my name instead? That might have saved some of the embarrassment. I mean, c’mon … who’s going to be scared of a wrestler named Twinkie? But I digress.

Of course, instead of looking away, I look directly at them, looking right into the half. Not Good.

Whistle blew and I was pinned. Fall time 2:51. So in a regulation match, I would have at least made it through the first period.

For my efforts, I was given a second place medal, my first and only wrestling medal. I should have it somewhere, my mom I think has it back in Poquoson. I look at it more of a turning point in my life than it was “winning” a medal, because I took second … out of two.

Jimmy ended up beating Hackmann, but then lost with an illegal slam, so even though he beat Hackmann, Hack got more classification points. Jimmy took second, so did I.

As I left the tournament, Jimmy looked over at me looking at my medal.

“You’re proud of that aren’t you?” he said.

“Actually, kinda,” I said.

I later ran into Andre in college. He went to Old Dominion and was a bouncer at the now-demolished 4400 Club. I’d see him from time to time and be like “Dude, why’d you have to whip my ass like that?” He’d always laugh. He was a good guy.

Coach Ruff and I still talk to this day. He’s a big reason why I’m so enamored with this sport. When my wrestling career came to an end, Ruff pulled me aside and told me “You’ll do more for this sport doing what you’re doing now, than you ever will for me on a wrestling mat.”

Those words ended up being prophetic. Jason Forrest ended up taking fifth in the state his senior year at 130. Mike Green never got the chance. Later that summer, Mike died after sustaining injuries in a freak accident at the base of his driveway. Until that time, Mike beat me up and down the Poquoson wrestling room. He was a 6-2, 190-pound specimen of a rising freshman. I truly believe he would have been a four-time state champion. After Mike died in August of 1996, I told myself I would make 189 and make states, because that was his spot.

I never fulfilled that obligation, because quite frankly, I got too late of a start in the sport and was so far behind the curve. I remember one practice where Mike just beat me up and down the room, it was just bad. But after a 10-minute go where I think he pinned me five or six times, he looked over and said, “I’m scoring on all your mistakes. It’s not like you’re not picking this up, but you’re just making bad choices on when to shoot and when not to shoot.”

Later that summer, after Mike’s passing, I scored my first (and only) legitimate takedown on Hackmann, who had been a state runner-up at Green Run when he was in high school. Bash the head, quick level change, shot in the direction of where he was circling, snatched the leg, doubled off on the leg and drove him to the mat.

Had it been a match where he was in trouble, I doubt I would have scored it, but to this day, I can still say “Hackmann, I took you down.”

So there’s a little bit about my first wrestling match and the summer that followed. It began my passion for the sport. I ended up winning a few matches at tournaments the rest of the summer, but never qualified for Fargo despite wrestling freestyle for, like a week, that summer.

So Jimmy, that’s the story about my first wrestling match. You talked me into wrestling in it and toted me home. Funny how that seemingly random event would have an effect on the rest of my life.

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Written by Jason Bryant

February 2, 2009 at 11:21 pm